Why the ethical choice is the selfish choice

By Matt Perryman

I saw on LinkedIn the other day a guy going on about how the masses won’t invest in small local businesses.

The reason? They can get a greater ROI by throwing their money into Globo Mega Capital LLC.

If Globo Mega Capital buys up everything and then decides to asset-strip whole communities as private equity likes to do, well, that’s too bad.

What do you expect people to do, accept a lower ROI? Guffaw.

I thought about it for a minute, and a few things hit me.

First of all, the masses aren’t investors to begin with. A vanishingly small amount of Americans, the bottom 80% or so, have more than $1000 to their name. So we’re already looking at a skewed sample, and one that is often bedazzled by The Numbers.

Such bedazzling leads to the other thing.

A selfish benefit can be much, much more than The Numbers. Next quarter’s share price is but one limited example of “benefit”.

Here are some other kinds of benefit:

  • Living in a functional and thriving community overflowing with happy people.

  • Knowing that your children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren will inherit a stable and prosperous community long after you’re gone.

  • Not being a lobotomized number-bot that can’t think beyond the next three-month window of time.

In ethics, we talk about the problem of moral motivation. You can put it in a short question:

“Why should I be good?”

If you’ve got your personal, selfish benefit here, and then there’s some “moral” junk over there, why, I can just ignore the moral junk and do what I want.

That’s stupid.

It’s one of those ideas that is so dumb that it takes a real clever SOB to make it sounds smart.

Psychopaths reason this way. Psychopaths, if I need remind you, are not better, clearer, more accurate thinkers.

They’re damaged people with broken souls who are missing essential responses and abilities of healthy humans.

Why is the short-sighted amoral choice stupid? We so often we see that the moral, ethical, good, right, decent, noble, most excellent choice is, in fact, to your benefit.

Not in the way of a quarterly P&L statement, perhaps, but over the long run, living a good life tends to lead to — wait for it — a good life.

The problem isn’t that moral standards oppose selfish benefit.

The problem is that so few of us have a good, accurate, and informed idea of what is beneficial.

Matt Perryman

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